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Dave Van Ronk, the Real Llewyn Davis

By John Morthland, Contributor

How important a figure was Dave Van Ronk on the Greenwich Village folk scene in its heyday? Consider the description of Bob Dylan, who was befriended by Van Ronk upon his arrival in New York in 1961, in his own memoir, Chronicles: "He was passionate and stinging, sang like a soldier of fortune and sounded like he paid the price. Van Ronk could howl and whisper, turn blues into ballads and ballads into blues. I… more »

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Nashville and the Art of the Fake Country Song

By Rob Harvilla, Contributor

[This piece contains spoilers from the ABC show Nashville — read at your own peril. — Ed.] Let us now consider Nashville, ABC's one-hour, primetime, moderately prestigious grand ole soap opry that seeks to triangulate Glee and Dallas by depicting the tawdry, bed-swapping, alarmingly pouty-faced back- and onstage shenanigans of (fictional) country music stars. Each episode boasts a handful of new songs — some pretty good, a few transcendent, most of 'em for sale. (We're on… more »

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Various Artists, Inner City Beat: Detective Themes, Spy Music and Imaginary Thrillers 1967-1977

2014 | Label: Soul Jazz Records / Redeye

The popularity of the movie soundtrack as standalone album is perhaps now at its peak, with numerous hip archival labels, such as Trunk Records, Death Waltz and Finders Keepers, dedicated to releasing overlooked, obscure or previously lost scores from old films. And thanks in large part to DJ Shadow, Portishead and David Holmes — who used cinematic samples to create their own panoramas — the concept of the soundtrack to an imaginary movie is now so well established it’s a genre in its own right.

Inner City Beat, then, feeds… more »

Michael Nyman, The Piano Sings, Vol. 2)

2013 | Label: MN Records / Zebralution

It’s possible you only know Michael Nyman as a film composer, either for his scores for most of the early Peter Greenaway movies (say The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover) or his score to Jane Campion’s The Piano. But there is more to him than that — he is one of the first composers to bring the pulse-pound of rock ‘n’ roll to a more formalized setting, writing what is, in essence, classically crafted pop material with a slight edge and a wider variety. He’s not only… more »

Nick Lowe, Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family

2013 | Label: Yep Roc Records / Redeye

Nick Lowe should be a national treasure by now, but the punk pathfinder rarely does the obvious thing. He recently said, “I like being a big fish in a small pond. I’m not interested in having a huge audience.” So it comes as a surprise that he’s covering Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” on this festive album. Yet it’s no dash for mass market success. Paved with warm guitars, creakily comfortable keyboards and splashes of brass, it’s a clearly direct descendant of all his work of… more »

Bright Eyes, A Christmas Album

2013 | Label: Saddle Creek

Conor Oberst understands that not all carols are cheery, which serves him well for this 2002 album, originally released as a download-only charity LP from Saddle Creek’s website. Here, indie rock’s one-time enfant terrible empties his crayons on the floor and proceeds to scribble all over this set of Christmas classics. “Away in the Manger” kicks things off, building from minimal double-tracked vocals into a whiteout of bowed saw, distorted rumbles and the distant melody we all remember; it’s a far cry from your standard carol but it certainly works.… more »